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Restaurant owners and executives are constantly looking for the biggest bang for their buck when it comes to spreading the word about their restaurant. Getting new mouths in the door is an important step in growing the business, let alone the brand. But just like the fashions of the time, the drivers that compel customers to try a new restaurant change with every passing year. And according to Market Force's 2011 restaurant consumer study, there is a new trend sweeping the industry.

According to consumers, the No. 1 reason that drove them to try a new restaurant was a recommendation from a friend – whether made personally, through Facebook, or some other communication. And at a 30 percent majority, that reason is up several percentages from last year. In an over-stimulated age where the Web makes it easier to listen to just about anyone or anything, consumers seem to be sifting through the noise and valuing input from their friends above all others. The reason that came in last -- a print, billboard or online advertisement at only 4 percent. No doubt a study like this can't account for the residual impact of brand awareness advertising, but with consumers relying more on recommendations to clinch their decisions on new restaurants, it's no surprise that Net Promoter Score has recently taken the spotlight as a key measurement of a brand's health and financial future.

Make no mistake about the study's definition of recommendations from a friend; they are not to be confused with online reviews. Instead, it truly is a case of grass roots word of mouth that every marketer is trying to tap. But it's food for thought as you ration out your marketing budget and dream up your acquisition strategies. In a world where giving and receiving recommendations is easier, faster and more influential in consumer decisions, no amount of advertising spend or PR can truly influence that recommendation driver. It seems that in a world that is oversaturated with brand awareness, consumers have gone back to basics – and so must we.

The in-store experience is the key. A big portion of your new customer wallet share comes down to two things – 1) the in-store experience driving whether or not your customers will recommend you and 2) in what ways can you enable them to do so? Through social media? With refer a friend discounts? Or simply by not just satisfying but delighting your customers every time and at every location. Facebook and the local coffee shop on Sunday will take care of the rest.

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • David Gonynor
    We could not agree more. We have been working with hundreds of restaurants for the past several years conducting online satisfaction surveys using the Net Promoter Score. It is a simple and effective management tool, especially for large restaurant chains.

    It is so important to encourage dissatisfied customers to complain directly to the restaurant giving them the opportunity to respond and turn the situation around. The old rule of thumb was one dissatisfied customer would tell ten people. With social media and online restaurant reviews sites like Yelp, City Search, Urban Spoon and Trip Advisor, one negative review can be seen by hundreds or even thousands of potential customers.

    I also like your point that the in-store experience is the key. We think a restaurant should make it easy for customers to share a delighted experience with friends or encourage them post an online review.

    Dave Gonynor
    CEO, Thatsbiz
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Janet Eden-Harris
Janet Eden-Harris is the CMO and SVP of Strategy for Market Force Information. She joined Market Force from J.D. Power and Associates, where she was VP of its Web Intelligence unit.
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